Cole, Stanton lead Yanks past Nats 4-1 in stormy MLB opener

WASHINGTON (AP) — The coronavirus-shortened Major League Baseball season finally started amid the pandemic Thursday night with plenty of unusual elements — zero fans, umpires wearing masks, Washington star Juan Soto sidelined by COVID-19, all Nationals and Yankees kneeling together before the national anthem.

“It’s hard to describe. That’s 2020 in a nutshell,” said Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle, who was supposed to catch Dr. Anthony Fauci’s way-off-the-mark ceremonial first pitch. “Very emotional day. Very, very emotional day.”

And there was plenty that actually made it all seem something resembling normal: Gerrit Cole’s five terrific innings, big hits from Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge and a 4-1 storm-halted victory for the big-name Yankees over the defending champion Nationals.

““It was a lot of fun. No one could have envisioned the type of year we’re having this year, but within those parameters, it exceeded every mark,” said Cole, who allowed only Adam Eaton’s first-inning homer and joked about recording a complete game. “I just had a blast.”

Max Scherzer, who struck out 11 but gave up all of New York’s runs, chose to look at the bright side, saying: “I’d rather be playing baseball than not. That’s the way I look at it. All the things we can get negative about and cry about, I’m just not going to do it.”

What began as a muggy evening turned into a dark, windy downpour, replete with rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightning, prompting a delay in the top of the sixth inning.

After waiting 1 hour, 58 minutes — 15 minutes more than were played — the game was called off and goes into the books as a win for New York.

Three-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer (0-1) served up a two-run homer to 2017 NL MVP Stanton that traveled 459 feet in the first, an RBI double to 2017 AL Rookie of the Year Judge in the third, and an RBI single to Stanton in the fifth.

Cole (1-0) looked every bit the player the Yankees hoped for when they signed him as a free agent to a $324 million, nine-year contract, the largest deal for a pitcher. He was terrific other than Eaton’s drive — the ball landed on one of the blue advertising tarps now stretching over unused seats at Nationals Park.

 

This was the official beginning of what is planned as a regular season with just 60 games — instead of the customary 162 — with, at least at the outset, no spectators — instead of the 40,000 or so that usually would be at opening day in D.C. — and with key rules changes.

Those include Thursday’s agreement to expand the playoffs from 10 to 16 teams; using designated hitters in every game, not just at American League ballparks; and the gimmicky runner-on-second-base to start each half-inning in extras.

In these most polarized of times in the United States, there certainly were those pleased, and maybe relieved, that one of the main North American team sports — the so-called national pastime — finally was back, playing real games.

“I found it easy to get locked into the game,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I had a lot of butterflies today coming to the ballpark and sorting through all the different things to get ready

And there also were, to be sure, those wondering whether it’s a good idea to play these games as the COVID-19 outbreak grows worse in parts of the country.

The pregame ceremony included nods to the Nationals’ title and the Black Lives Matter movement — players from both teams jointly held a long black piece of cloth, then knelt in unison.

“There’s a lot of injustice in this world and a lot of bad things going on, so we just wanted to show that we’re aware of it,” Judge said. “Start the conversation. Start the change.”

The 266 days between the final game of the World Series — Scherzer started Game 7 for Washington against Cole’s former team, the Houston Astros — and Thursday marked the longest gap between games since professional baseball leagues started in 1871.

“A long wait,” Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres said.

There all sorts sorts of protocols intended to keep folks safe, including a ban on players spitting, umpires wearing masks, and frequent testing for the new coronavirus — Soto went on the special injured list for the illness Thursday after his positive result came back.

“It was a really harsh reminder how tenuous this situation is,” Doolittle said about Soto.

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman already was on that list. Two Nationals players who would have been on the roster — Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross — opted out of the season because of health-related concerns.

Even if the stadium was closed to the public, some folks did watch from balconies on at least one nearby high-rise building. Meanwhile, fake crowd noise was piped in through the stadium speakers, adding a bizarre element to an eerie atmosphere.

“It felt odd,” Judge said. “It definitely felt odd.”

UP NEXT

After Friday’s day off, the series resumes Saturday, with World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg pitching against New York’s James Paxton. There is rain in the forecast.

___

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Rob Johnston Robbie Johnston, Ted Peters
From left, Rob Johnston of Alexandria, Va., and his son Robbie, 15, take a photo with Ted Peters of Haymarket, Va., who calls himself “Captain Obvious” outside Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Will Vizcarra of Arlington, Va., wears a 2019 Nationals World Championship hat outside Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Hayden Bluth holds up a sign that reads “Sell Us Tickets” as he screams the same thing outside Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A “Black Lives Matter Unity” image is displayed on a large digital screen at Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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The Washington Nationals play their home opener against the New York Yankees on Thursday night. (John Domen/WTOP)

nats merch
Nationals merchandise at the store at Nats Park during their home opener on Thursday, July 23, 2020. (John Domen/WTOP)

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Championship jerseys are on display and for sale at the store. (John Domen/WTOP)

People social distance at an outdoor bar outside Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A dog wears a Nationals’s scarf as it sits next to people social distancing at an outdoor bar outside Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Dome of the U.S. Capitol is visible as a Washington Nationals fan wearing a Juan Soto jersey walks outside Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

From left, Rob Johnston of Alexandria, Va., and his son Robbie, 15, take a photo with Ted Peters of Haymarket, Va., who calls himself “Captain Obvious” outside Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A woman wears a Nationals’ World Championship mask outside Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

People watch the game from the Top of the Yard bar on the rooftop of Hampton Inn & Suites hotel during an opening day baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A 2019 World Series champions sign is displayed during the Washington Nationals baseball practice at Nationals Park, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
A 2019 World Series champions sign is displayed during the Washington Nationals baseball practice at Nationals Park, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals kneel while holding a black ribbon to honor Black Lives Matter before playing an opening day baseball game at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. before the start of the first inning of an opening day baseball game at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

An overall view of Nationals Park during the Washington Nationals baseball practice, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals hold a black ribbon to honor Black Lives Matter before playing an opening day baseball game at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Dave Martinez, Trea Turner
Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez (4) and shortstop Trea Turner (7) kneel and hold a piece of black fabric before an opening day baseball game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Members of Washington Nationals kneel and hold a piece of black fabric before an opening day baseball game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Members of Washington Nationals kneel and hold a piece of black fabric before an opening day baseball game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Anthony Fauci
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, center, holds his hat during the playing of the National Anthem before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park at an opening day baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Anthony Fauci
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Ceremonial first pitch is thrown by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases before the start of the first inning of an opening day baseball game between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Ceremonial first pitch is thrown by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases before the start of the during the first inning of an opening day baseball game between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Dr. Anthony Fauci meets Nationals closer Sean Doolittle after the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day. (Courtesy Washington Nationals)

Dr. Anthony Fauci and Nationals closer Sean Doolittle pose after the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day. (Courtesy Washington Nationals)

Members of Washington Nationals and against the New York Yankees kneel and hold a piece of black fabric before an opening day baseball game at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals take the field for opening ceremonies before playing an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Max Scherzer, Aaron Hicks
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws the first pitch to New York Yankees’ Aaron Hicks at Nationals Park during an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Washington Nationals Adam Eaton celebrates his solo homer against the New York Yankees during the first inning of an opening day baseball game at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, center, smiles as he watches an opening day baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws during the fourth inning of an opening day baseball game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A bolt of lightning comes down from the clouds during the sixth inning of an opening day baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A bolt of lightning comes down from the clouds during the sixth inning of an opening day baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rain and lighting halt an opening day baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Rain and lighting halt an opening day baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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Rob Johnston Robbie Johnston, Ted Peters
nats
nats merch
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A 2019 World Series champions sign is displayed during the Washington Nationals baseball practice at Nationals Park, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Dave Martinez, Trea Turner
Members of Washington Nationals kneel and hold a piece of black fabric before an opening day baseball game against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Anthony Fauci
Anthony Fauci
Max Scherzer, Aaron Hicks
A bolt of lightning comes down from the clouds during the sixth inning of an opening day baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Rain and lighting halt an opening day baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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